Editor’s note: Coy Wire is a former linebacker for the Atlanta Falcons and the Buffalo Bills. He left the NFL in 2010 due to a neck injury. He is the author of, “Change Your Mind: 10 Unconventional Secrets to Retrain Your Brain” and a frequent sports analyst and color commentator with Pac-12 Networks. He is on Twitter.
There was a time when Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o was thought to be a top-10 pick in this year’s NFL draft. But ever since he was duped by super-prankster Ronaiah Tuiasosopo -- the puppeteer who powered Te’o’s fictional girlfriend, Lennay Kekua -- his draft status has dropped.
Some even think that the scandal is enough of a reason for NFL teams to pass on Te’o in the first round completely.
So, should they? Let’s all put on our imaginary coach’s hat or our general manager swag and decide whether or not we should draft Manti Te’o with our coveted first-round pick in this year’s draft.
Is Te’o the commander we want to lead our troop of tough, smart men into battle?
Despite the fact that Te’o has seemingly made great strides toward putting this infamous scandal behind him, we can’t ignore the fact that it happened. The incident isn’t going away any time soon, either. Reporters will continue to try to crack him. Future teammates might disguise jabs of disrespect by cracking jokes of “endearment” with him in the locker room, while whispering their true thoughts about him behind his back. Opponents and opposing teams’ fans might heckle him.
All eyes will (continue to) be on Te’o through training camp and beyond…will he be strong enough to handle the pressure?
Organizations usually prefer not to take on a “project,” especially in the first round, so some teams may be turned off by the debacle. They know that if they draft Te’o and he turns out to be a bust, physically or mentally, they’ll be scrutinized by their team’s fan base and appear to be just as gullible over an imaginary treat as Te’o was.
In addition to convincing team executives that he can manhandle the hulking mental stress and strain he’ll have to conquer in order to excel at the next level, he’ll have to first put forth a kick-butt performance at his pro day.
Although there is plenty of film of him making great plays and playing with pizzazz during the 2012 college season, he didn’t show up (not even with his passion and enthusiasm, two of his greatest attributes) in the BCS championship game against a dominant Alabama team. There was no suddenness in Manti’s game. No flashes of impressiveness. He had the “deer in headlights” look and appeared to be a step behind on the biggest stage of his career. They say that big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games. He didn’t.
He didn’t perform well at the NFL Combine either.
If I’m an executive in the front office of an NFL team, I’d make it known that I couldn't care less that he got caught up in a hoax, hook, line, and sinker. I’d say that I don’t think the situation he was a part of is as serious of an issue as some of the troubles that other prospects find themselves in (drugs, alcohol, etc.). I’d say that I’m impressed with the resiliency that he’s shown in the face of adversity and scrutiny. I’d make it clear that I would be drafting Te’o based on his ability to play linebacker in the NFL: To see ball, get ball (insert manly growl here).
Te’o has admitted his mistakes. He has accepted his past naivety. He seems to be the type that can learn from this experience and become stronger because of it. I’m rooting for the guy. However, maybe something else from this telenovela-like saga will surface in the coming weeks and make me take that back.
What I think is this: Te’o doesn’t appear to be crazy. He didn’t seem to show any signs of being mentally or emotionally weak when he talked to the media at the NFL Combine on Saturday. His press conference lasted approximately 15 minutes, and he seemed cool, calm, collected and clear-headed. One reporter stated that an NFL coach said Te’o was a “rock star” in his interview.
Te’o appears to have a firm grasp on reality now. Te’o can play ball well. There’s no doubt in my mind that he can play ball with the best of the best. But, as an imaginary GM, I'm not a huge risk-taker or gambler. For me, Te'o has too many question marks beside his name to be taken in the first round -- not because he was pranked, but because of the way he graded out in the national championship game and at the combine. Second round? Sure.
So what say you, my fellow, imaginary (see what I did there?) coaches and GMs? Is Manti Te’o worthy of your team’s big bucks and a first-round selection in the NFL draft? Are you willing to put your reputation and job on the line with a guy who was made a mockery of in front of an entire nation, and has had as many memes about him as the Harlem Shake?